Composer: Gwyneth Walker
Title: Songs from the High Sierra
Voice: High Voice and Piano
The five letters which provide the lyrics for the songs (adapted by the composer) were selected for their range of topics and sentiments. Some portray the wildlife in the mountains (“Glacier Birds...”). Others extol the beauty of the Sierra (“Mountain Glory,” “Yosemite Falls”). One expresses the whimsical/temperamental personality of the author (“Ice!”). And the final letter (“Sequoia”) speaks reverently of the great trees, in a language both naturalistic and sacred. They are the “greatest light in the woods, the greatest light in the world.”
The musical settings, especially in the piano accompaniment, are quite programmatic. Glacier birds scamper up and down the keyboard in tone clusters. “Icy” glissandi float off. The great trees take root in large, block chords, and waterfalls cascade down in scales.
There is personality in the letters. The bond between John Muir and Mrs. Carr (whom he addresses formally) is one of great kinship- a blending of the souls, a “spiritual romance.” As he marvels at the beauty of the wilderness, he writes ardently, “I wish that you could see this...” When he learns that Mrs. Carr, a botanist (whose plants suffer from the frost), dislikes ice, he chides her, and creates a “mock argument” over the value of glacial ice.
The songs begin with an ascent into the mountains. They close with the return to the coast, to the magnificent Sequoia trees, where John Muir camps for the night, in the company of a squirrel. Charmingly, he writes “therefore, my Carr, goodnight.”
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